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Letter: North Shuswap residents await answers on handling of wildfire

‘Failing to give us the answers we deserve would add insult to injury’
North Shuswap resident Jody Evans attempts to control a spot fire left in the wake of the Bush Creek East wildfire that spread through the area Friday night, Aug. 18. (Angela Lagore photo)

It has been a month since residents of the North Shuswap and Squilax fled a dragon of a fire that took at least 200 homes, and so far we are still waiting for explanations and accountability about everything that went wrong in this emergency.

The Columbia-Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) needs to explain why on Friday, Aug. 18, many residents of Celista were not put on Evacuation Alert, much less Evacuation Order, until the only route out was already closed.

Many people who waited for the official notice to leave found they either had to stay or drive several hours over the logging road through Seymour Arm to Malakwa.

I have talked to people from my neighbourhood who could not leave and faced a terrifying fire tornado.

Second, after the worst of the firestorm, why was the BC Wildfire Service and the CSRD completely unprepared to protect structures that had not yet burned but were still under fire threat?

The vacuum of professional firefighters taking on this work meant that local contractors and able-bodied volunteers organized and went to work saving countless homes.

The province and the CSRD need to explain why, instead of helping the ad-hoc volunteers and coordinating the efforts of the three groups (BCWS, the three fire departments and the volunteers), they interfered, set up road blocks and threatened to arrest people.

Finally, we need accountability and answers about the controlled burn that was set Aug. 16.

Statements about the “hundreds of homes saved” are a punch to the stomach for everybody whose home burned in the aftermath of the “successful” backburn. It is hard to fathom what a backburn failure would have looked like if that was a success.

Was setting a controlled burn a mistake, is the BCWS responsible for the loss of homes, and will the province compensate homeowners for the loss caused by a mistake?

We need a group of objective experts to look at the decisions made by the BCWS in order to learn from this fire for the future and provide accountability.

In spite of the resilience shown by North Shuswapians who organized to help their neighbours, who coped with three weeks of evacuation, and who are picking up the pieces of their burned homes, our community has been devastated and is in mourning.

Failing to give us the answers we deserve would add insult to injury.

Larissa Lutjen